GREENFIELD — With a first-grader attending J.B. Stephens Elementary, Greenfield Police Officer C.W. Murnan was more than thrilled to be given a chance to be a school security officer for the district.
Not only does it allow him an opportunity to check in on his own son from time to time, he’s happy to have the responsibility to help keep G-C students and staff safe.
“We’re here to help,” Murnan said while having lunch one day this week with his son, Will. “This is a pretty good program. It’s all about safety first. That is our main goal.”
While school is supposed to be all about getting a good education and learning valuable lifelong lessons, safety has been at the forefront.
Keeping students safe from intruders has become a priority.
All four county school districts are beginning to see the results of that statewide safety effort
because of money provided through the Indiana Secured School Grant Fund.
The program is a $20 million, two-year, matching grant that provides funds to increase security at school buildings.
The first round of improvements was made at schools this summer. Another round of funding was announced in June.
Schools were encouraged to hire security officers with their grants, as well as consider investing in building improvements to make them safer.
All four county districts have either already hired an officer with the first phase of the grant or plan to do so with the second round of funding.
“I think this will make a huge difference to know that at least during some point of the day there is going to be a police officer going to every school in our system,” said Gary O’Neal, G-C’s head of safety. “I think it will help us out dramatically if people know that at any time there could be a police officer in a building.”
Greenfield-Central received $50,000 during the first round of the grant and was awarded an additional $50,000 in June. Officials used the money to update school camera systems, install electronic entry systems at Maxwell Intermediate and Eden Elementary and pay for a second officer.
Known as “school resource officers,” they are individuals who must have received at least 40 hours of SRO training through the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board, National Association of School Resource Officers and another organization certified to instruct SROs.
Murnan said the special training teaches officers how to work with children.
“We need to show them that we are approachable,” Murnan said. “You want the kids to be comfortable with you and not scared of you.”
Steve Satterly, Southern Hancock schools’ safety director, said the district is using its funds to add safety officers and to build entrance safety vestibules at all elementary schools. The district has received a total of $100,000 in the two grants. It will have at least two school resource officers patrolling five school buildings. Satterly said the officers will be on a “roving system.”
Officials with Eastern Hancock used the first round of money, $30,741, to improve safety equipment in the schools. They installed additional card swipes on outdoor entrances; electronic door locks on school offices; and new locks on all classroom doors.
“I do believe that we have made some good changes and improved security in our buildings,” Superintendent Randy Harris said. “We do not have a resource officer, but it has been approved for our second grant, and the position will be added when we receive the money ($49,999) from the second grant.”
The increase in safety measures comes at a troubling time, as officials try to keep students and staff safe.
An analysis of school shootings by everytown.org reveals since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, there have been at least 74 school shootings throughout the Untied States, resulting in 208 deaths and 37 non-fatal gunshot injuries.
Mt. Vernon’s Bob Robinson was the first safety officer hired with the grant and has been on the job since March. The district was awarded $50,000 last year and an additional $45,000 in June.
Robinson, a retired deputy from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, said he’s noticed a difference in the enthusiasm of students and staff from the first day he was hired to patrol the district’s elementary schools.
“I think it has been somewhat uplifting for the staff,” Robinson said. “I think you can see somewhat of a relief... Everyone can see that I am there to protect them.”
He often goes into classrooms and helps educate the children about his job and the importance of his presence.
Robinson said the grant was a long time in coming and one that should continue beyond the current two-year program.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security administers the grant. In the fall of 2012, Attorney General Greg Zoeller sent out surveys to school corporations, law enforcement and citizens asking about school safety and school resource officers.
As a result of the survey, legislation was written that created the Secured School Safety Grant Program. It passed the Legislature and was signed into law in May 2013.
Since that time, Department of Homeland Security officials say they’ve had nothing but positive feedback.
“What we’re getting is that this is a very good state and local partnership,” said John Erickson, a spokesman for the agency. “We’re providing overall parameters, but we’re leaving the details of what the local schools need to them.”
The big question is whether the program will be extended.
“That is up to the Legislature and the budget process,” Erickson said. “Certainly, we think it is a priority. But, it is something that is really in the hands of the Legislature.”
School officials are well aware of that. The hardware changes obviously will stay in place. Continuing to pay the safety officers, however, might be tricky if the grant program isn’t extended.
“We informed the officer that continued employment was contingent on the grant continuing,” Mt. Vernon Assistant Superintendent Mike Horton said. “If the grant ceases, then the position would be dropped due to a lack of funding.”
School corporations with an average daily membership of at least 1,000 students were encouraged to apply for the grants for up to $50,000 per year. Schools with fewer than than 1,000 students could apply for up to $35,000.
Below is a list of how each district in the county is using the money from the Indiana Secured School Grant Fund:
First round of grant money awarded Nov. 1, 2013
• Eastern Hancock was awarded $30,741. Purchased additional card swipes on outdoor entrances, electronic door locks on school offices, new locks on all classroom doors.
• Southern Hancock was awarded $50,000 to employ an officer and for equipment. Added entry vestibules at all elementary schools.
• Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation was awarded $50,000. Increased and updated school camera systems, installed electronic entry systems and added a second officer.
• Mt. Vernon was awarded $50,000 to hire an officer and to purchase equipment for the officer such as uniforms and a police radio. Also purchased emergency guides for each teacher and are in the process of modifying school entrances.
Second round awarded June 4, 2014
• Eastern Hancock was awarded $49,999.97 to employ an officer and for equipment.
• Southern Hancock was awarded $50,000 to employ an officer and for equipment.
• Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation was awarded $50,000 for equipment.
• Mt. Vernon was awarded $45,000 to hire an officer.